No Sale, Just Low Prices

If you’re anything like me,  you’ve probably gotten roughly one million Black Friday e-mails by now.   First it was teasers.  Then it was doorbusters.   Somehow Black Friday the day became Black Friday the week (or several weeks),  and it seems that everyone wants to offer you a deal or a special or a once in a lifetime can’t miss opportunity.

One of the things we get asked quite often is why EnMart doesn’t offer free shipping or do more sales.   There are a lot of reasons why we don’t,  but the most basic one is this – we don’t because everyone else does.   It’s not that we’re contrarian,  it’s more that our goal is to offer our products at prices that produce a profit for us while still being budget friendly for our customers.  Also,  when there’s a blizzard of offers already out there,  standing out from the crowd can be tough.

Still,  we get that free shipping and sales are expected and desired by a lot of our customers,  so I wanted to address in more detail the reasons why we don’t offer either of those things on a regular basis.  One reason we don’t tend to offer free shipping more often is the fact that,  in our experience,  when we have offered it,  orders have not increased.   If we offer a free shipping coupon for orders past a current price threshold,  customers often neglect to use it,  even if they meet the threshold.  Order size also doesn’t tend to increase when we offer free shipping.   Since the whole goal of offering something for free is to encourage more people to buy,  when that doesn’t appear to motivate the behavior we want,  we try something else.

EnMart also does a lot of work to keep shipping costs and product prices budget friendly for our customers.   We offer a variety of shipping options,  including allowing customers to ship via the U.S. Postal Service or on their own accounts.  Our shipping costs are also based on the shipping rates offered to our parent company.  Since that company ships a large number of packages daily,  EnMart customers benefit from rates that are lower than they might otherwise be.

As for sales,  we like sales as much as the next company,  and have tried,  over the years,  to come up with some fun sales that offered good deals.  Still, as with the free shipping scenario,  we find that sales don’t tend to increase the volume or size of orders we get.   They also don’t seem to be a prime motivator for those who are placing orders.  So,  we end up back at our basic premise,  that good service,  good products and budget friendly prices are a larger motivator for our customers.

Please keep in mind that we do offer sales and specials when the mood strikes us.   The best way to keep up to date on what sales and specials are available is to follow us on Twitter or Facebook,  or to sign up for our mailing list.   If we have a special offer running,  we will send out an e-mail and announce it on social media.

Also,  if you have any comments or suggestion for a sale you’d like to see us offer,  or a thought about our current policy,  we’d love to hear from you.   Feel free to comment on this blog post,  leave us a comment or a message on social media,  or contact us through any of the available methods.

Happy Thanksgiving!

EnMart will be closed on Thursday,  November 22 and Friday, November 23 in honor of Thanksgiving.   We will re-open for normal business on Monday,  November 26.

Of all the things we are thankful for this year,  you,  our friends and customers,  are on the top of the list.   We are grateful for your support,  your business and the wisdom and creativity you share with us.

We wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Featured Friday, Information, Inspiration, Instruction 10/19/18

Because Autumn is winding down (in some places),  Winter is closing in (not quite yet, please), and it’s the end of another work week,  I thought I’d share some of the things that have amused me, inspired me or educated me recently.

First on the docket,  a cool way to create a hand embroidered look with machine embroidery.  Many people like the timeless look of cross stitch,  but don’t want to count the stitches.   This post from Creative Machine Embroidery Magazine discusses how to create the look of cross stitch on your embroidery machine.  It’s a pretty extensive tutorial.

Second on the list,  the news that there is now a way to create sublimated items without a sublimation system.   Our own Tom Chambers tells you all about how to sublimate without a sublimation system in a terrific blog post on the SubliStuff blog.  Tom has been writing a couple of posts a month about various sublimation topics for that blog,  so if you do sublimation or are interested in learning more about sublimation,  it would be a good idea to bookmark the SubliStuff blog so you can come back to it later.

Third at bat,   a post from Erich Campbell,  part of his Ghost and the Embroidery Machine series for the Mr X Stitch blog.   In this post,  he’s talking about how to make machine embroidery and digitizing accessible for everyone.   He gives some great ideas for how people on limited budgets can learn the skills they need to start their own machine embroidery businesses.  It’s a terrific post that outlines many of the options available to those who are interested in embroidery.

Fourth in line,  although I don’t usually plug posts I write myself when I do these round-ups,  I’m going to make an exception this time.   I did a series on pricing for this blog and I think,  if I do say so myself,  it’s worth a read.   Part 1 talks about gathering data.  Part 2 talks about actually setting prices and how to communicate pricing info to your customers.   Part 3 talks about dealing with customers who want to argue or negotiate price.

Finally,  I need to point out this video of the 2RegularGuys podcast today.  The guests were Carolyn Cagle from Strikke Embroidery and Luiz Vitor Neto Mendes from Vitor Digitizing.   It was a fantastic and fascinating interview with a lot of food for thought in it.  Definitely worth a watch,  and I’m not just saying that because Carolyn called me one of her favorite people in the world at the end of the interview.  The link takes you to the video on Facebook.   When it’s available on their site as well,  I’ll update the post.

Sales Tax Rules Change

To Our Customers:

Most of you, if you follow the news at all, have probably heard of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of South Dakota vs. Wayfair.   This decision has altered the rules about when and why sales tax must be collected.

Currently, EnMart and Ensign Emblem collect sales tax in the states where we have a presence, MI, GA, IL, CA, NV and NJ, as was required by previous tax law.   With the advent of the new decision, we will also begin collecting sales tax on all orders that ship to AL, IN, KY, MO, WA and WI.     It is likely there will be additional states added to this list in the near future.

If you are currently in one of the states listed above, you can establish your tax-exempt status with EnMart/Ensign by completing the relevant state sales tax exemption form and submitting it to us.    This form should be completed in your legal business name.   We will begin charging sales tax in the additional six states listed above on October 1, 2018.    If we do not have a completed form on file by that date, your account will be charged sales tax until such time as the completed form is on file.

Please be aware that,  even though we are currently only adding six additional states,  most states will probably be requiring sales tax collection in the near future.   Even if you are not in one of the states in which we currently charge tax,  it still might be worthwhile to complete a sales tax exemption form for your state and send it to us.  All forms are kept on file,  and once an account is set to exempt status it will remain so.

For a current list of taxable states, links to their respective exemption forms, and for submission of your completed forms, please visit our Sales Tax Exemption Forms and Links page.

As always, our goal is to remain compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation.

The Art of Setting Price – Part 3

In part 2 of this series, we talked about finalizing the prices you will charge based on the data you’d collected,  and how to communicate those prices to your customers.   There are some customers who will accept the prices you give them without an issue, thinking they’re fair,  there will be some customers who think they’re getting a bargain,  and there will be some who will always want to argue the price or who will press for something extra.  How you deal with the latter group may be the difference between a business that makes a profit and one that soon sinks out of sight.

So,  how do you deal with those people who want to argue or negotiate price?  One way is through education.   A lot of people don’t know what goes into making a shirt or a transfer or a hat.  Show them the process.  Show them the machines you use to do the work.  Talk about the supplies you buy,  the webinars you watch and the seminars you’ve paid to attend.   Let your customers know that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into being good at what you do.   People are always more comfortable about and more willing to compensate experts for their time and expertise.

Another technique is to try to get to the “why” of their objection to your price.  Are they operating on a budget that may be unrealistic?  Do they not understand what goes into making the goods they want to buy?  Did they find someone down the street that offered to do it for cheaper?   If you can find out why they’re objecting you can address the issue and possibly change their minds.   Or, perhaps,  find out that it isn’t worth changing their mind and the job in question is one that should go to the cheaper guy down the street.   At least if you have all the details,  you can make an informed decision.

“The guy down the street will do it cheaper” tactic (at times it might be the “guy online”, but you get the idea) is often a common method of pursuing a lower price.  When this is used on you,  probably the first question to ask is “why didn’t you go with the guy down the street then?”,  in a non-confrontational way.  Usually,  if a customer is coming to you after having been quoted a lower price elsewhere they either have some reservations about the other shop,  or they’re hoping they can spin you a tale that will make you lower your price.   Getting the details will usually tell you which option it is and point you to the route that may get you the price you want to charge.

Another thing that decoration shops may often encounter is the person or group who wants a print job to be donated,  or who wants to pay for the job in “exposure”.  There are times when jobs of this sort can be beneficial,  but make sure to examine each job of this type carefully before you say yes.  Who will be seeing the work you’re doing,  and is this your customer base?  How many people will be exposed to your work?  What would be the cost of the work if it were paid for, and how does the value of what ever is being offered instead of money measure up?  Will this job generate goodwill among people who could potentially be customers or who could direct customers to you later?  Not all barter or “exposure” jobs are necessarily bad,  but it always pays to do the analysis and be very clear on what you can expect to get before you agree to any such deal.

Finally,  don’t forget your secret weapon when it comes to standing firm in price negotiations,  the absolute rock bottom price you calculated earlier.  If you have that price calculated for every product,  then you know how much room you have to negotiate,  and the floor beyond which you cannot go.

 

The Art of Setting Price – Part 2

In the first part of this series,  we talked about how to gather the data you need to determine what price you should charge.  In the second part we’ll talk about how to finalize your pricing and how to communicate that pricing to your customers.  Although the data collection process, as detailed in part one,  can take time,  it’s actually probably the easier part of setting price.   Now comes the hard part,  setting your prices and sticking to them.

Once you’ve crunched the numbers on what you need to make and assigned tentative prices for your products,  you can compare those with your market research data.  Sometimes you’ll find that you can charge more than you thought you could and still be competitive.   Other times you’ll find that the prices may need to be adjusted downward slightly.  The hope is that the highs and the lows will balance.

After the final adjustments are done,  do one more set of calculations.  There are two parts to this final bout of arithmetic.  One part is to figure out if you can afford to and want to do quantity discounts and what those discounts will be.  This set of calculations should also include what your minimum order quantity will be.  For some people,  it’s the minimum number of a product they need to make their minimum profit requirement.   Other people may have very low minimums to try and differentiate themselves. Some shops will have set minimums and quantity discounts that are stated prominently in their pricing literature.   Others may not advertise these minimums and discounts,  but every shop should know what they are. The time to make pricing decisions is not when someone is standing in front of you asking.  Those decisions should be made when there’s no pressure and you can keep your income goals clearly in front of you.

The second set of calculations to be done deals with your absolute lowest price.  This is the rock bottom minimum you can charge and still make at least a small amount of profit.  The hope is you will always be able to charge more than this number,  but you should always know what your lowest price is and stick to it.  Again, the time to make this decision is not when a potential customer is arguing with you,  or when someone offers a huge job that is terribly tempting.  Know your lowest price before you get into these situations,  and make sure you don’t go below that price,  no matter what the incentive.

Now that you’ve done this last set of calculations,  you should have a final price for each product you offer,  along with quantity discounts,  if you intend to offer those,  and a rock bottom minimum price below which you will not go.  All this information now needs to be communicated to your customers.  If you’re selling online, pricing information can be communicated in each product listing.   If you’re running a brick and mortar shop,  printed pricing can be offered with order forms.   As a general rule,  it’s a good idea not to make any mention of your rock bottom minimums in the pricing you release to the public.   After all,  it’s never a good sales tactic to let your customer know the minimum payment you’re prepared to accept.

Your pricing is now set, and you’re on to the really difficult part,  holding firm on those prices.  We’ll discuss that in part 3. 

The Art of Setting Price – Part 1

Setting prices on your work is hard,  particularly if it’s creative work, anyone who has ever had to price something out knows that.  It’s tough to figure out what’s fair,  and what’s necessary,  and what’s going to make the product sell.  Sometimes it’s seems like it would be easier to allow the customer to tell you what they want to pay,  but that method can often lead to a nice home in a box under a bridge.  Often people set prices lower than they should because they think their work is “only a hobby” or “I couldn’t possibly charge that much!”.  There are a ton of reasons why setting prices is complicated,  and sometimes frustrating and occasionally scary.   There are also some things you can do to make the whole process a little bit easier.

The first thing you need to do is the math,  which isn’t always fun,  but is a necessary first step.  What you’re figuring out is how much you need to make, so there are lots of numbers to gather and compute.  Take into account the following:

  • What do you need to live – this means what do you need for food, shelter, clothing, transportation,  various insurances like auto and health.  How much do you want to have in the bank to cover emergencies? In other words,  what sort of wage do you need to pay yourself in order to live with at least a basic level of comfort and security?
  • What do you need to keep your business running – What’s the cost of your rent or mortgage? What about electricity and heat?  What will you need to pay for business insurance? How much is marketing and sales going to cost you? If you have employees,  they show up here too,  including things like their health insurance. Basically,  what do you need to make your business go?
  • What supplies do you need and how much – How often do you order supplies? What percentage do you keep on hand for unexpected orders and overage or mistakes?  How far out is your production calendar booked,  and what supplies in what amounts are you forecasted to need? Do you have terms?  Do you charge orders to a credit card?  When do your bills come due?

Once you’ve done your calculations break the number down in whatever way you like.   You could come up with a monthly figure,  a weekly figure,  a daily figure or an hourly figure.  What you’re looking for is some number and some period that can be a benchmark for how much your business needs to bring in.

Now that you have a number,  the next thing to do is divide that number by all the products you offer.   Obviously,  different products will have different price points,  and some products will account for more of your revenue than others.   The goal is to put a tentative price on each product you offer,  based on the percentage each product will contribute to the total revenue you need to make.

Once each product has a tentative price,  the next thing to do is the research.  This is where you get online,  talk to friendly competitors,  ask people in Facebook groups or on forums,  and generally gather as much information as you can on pricing in the product categories you’ll be offering.  Obviously, this research should be tailored to your market.   If you have a brick and mortar store and you’ll be selling in one city,  concentrate on pricing there.   If you’ll be selling only online,  look at who your competitors are in that space.   It isn’t enough to gather numbers,  those numbers have to be specific to the products you want to sell and the markets you’ll be selling in.   Be sure to compare apples to apples.

The goal of the research is to gather data on at what prices people in the same sort of business as you are selling the same or similar products.  Again,  it’s necessary to make sure the information you’re gathering is covering the same market and the same products as what you’ll be offering.  It’s no good doing price research on Maserati when you’re actually selling a Pinto.  Be as accurate as possible,  as this research will play a big part in setting the final price you charge.

This is part one of our series on setting pricing.  In part two,  we’ll discuss what happens after the data gathering process.

Trendy Thursday: How to Keep Up With Trends

If you’re running a business,  you’re busy,  that’s a given.  There are probably a lot of hats on your head and trying to add one more may seem impossible,  but it’s necessary.   Anyone doing garment decoration or really decoration of anything,  be it mugsblankets or patches,  needs to be aware of what’s trendy.  After all,  you don’t want to be offering items decorated with camels when everyone has decided their new love is llamas.

Luckily,  keeping up with the latest trends doesn’t have to be difficult or particularly time consuming.   Here are a few ways to keep on trend without spending a ton of time.

Use Social Media –  Follow your competitors.  Follow the feeds for the companies that make or sell equipment and supplies for your decoration discipline.  If you create garments or hats,  follow fashion blogs or sites that cover trends in the items you decorate.  Social media can be a great tool for collecting a lot of useful information in one place.

Talk to People – If you have employees,  particularly if they’re in a variety of age groups,  talk to them about what they like/notice/have seen people wearing. If you have kids, or know people who have kids,  talk to the kids about what’s hot in their world right now. Definitely talk to your customers,  as they can be your best source of industry or interest specific trend information.  Create a e-mail box or a billboard where people can post interesting articles and information they’ve found.

Go to Trade Shows – Yes,  a trade show can be a significant investment in time and money,  but it’s also a place where you can kill a variety of birds with one stone.   You can view the newest equipment.   You can visit multiple suppliers and see what new supplies are available.   Seeing what new things are being offered gives you some advance notice of what upcoming trends might be.  Trade shows are also a great place to learn,  with seminars that teach a variety of decoration techniques.  Trade shows offer a number of ways to gather information on trends in one place with one visit, so they’re well worth the time and effort.

Subscribe to Magazines – Whether they’re trade journals or something more general interest,  magazines can be a great tool for staying current on trends.   Many trade journals can be received in digital format and some are free to those who work in the industry.   Subscription prices for digital formats of general interest magazines are also available.   As a bonus,  many magazines will have electronic newsletter subscriptions available.  In these newsletters they spotlight articles they think are important,  which may also be a way to spot emerging trends.

Go Shopping – Maybe your shopping trip is to an actual store,  or maybe you shop online,  but spend a little time each week visiting stores to see what they’re offering.  This is particularly relevant for garment decorators,  but it really has benefit for any kind of decorator.   Doing a little shopping (and it can be of the window variety, where you don’t spend money) helps you stay current on what’s on the way in and what’s on the way out.

The main thing to remember is just to keep your eyes and ears open.   Anything could be the piece of information you need to clue you in to the next big trend.  Stay alert and stay interested, and your business well be poised to ride the next big wave when it arrives.

There’s No Substitute for Stabilizer

I’ve seen the question so many times I just mostly make a resigned sad face when I see it now,  but it still bothers me.   The question usually starts with the words “Can I..” and then goes on to ask whether it’s acceptable to use freezer paper or printer paper or plastic grocery bags as stabilizer for embroidery.  I get the idea behind the inquiry – stabilizer can be expensive,  or at least more expensive than a roll of freezer paper.  Things like printer paper or plastic grocery bags are also usually at hand and don’t need to be purchased specially.  I also suppose,  to some people,  using a common household item might be less intimidating.  There are understandable reasons why people might pursue the option of using something other than the item specifically designed for the purpose,  but there are also several reasons why that’s not usually a good idea.

Before I go into the reasons why we think using things like freezer paper is not the ideal option,  I do want to address the one exception,  using freezer paper for applique.   When cutting patterns for applique,  freezer paper is an option for stabilizing the fabric while you cut out the shapes.   It’s also a viable option for fusing to the back of a fabric you are intending to draw or paint on,  as raw fabric tends to wrinkle.  Keep in mind,  both these activities are embroidery adjacent,  not actually embroidery,  so I still stand by that statement that freezer paper is not generally a great option when it comes to stabilizing embroidery.  Now let’s discuss the reasons why we think this is so.

Reason 1:  Many stabilizers are designed specifically for machine embroidery – I’m sure there are stabilizers out there that started life as pocket lining or something,  but there are also several classes of stabilizers that are intended specifically to be used with machine embroidery.   This category includes poly meshfusible,  and adhesive backing.  Something that is designed specifically for the requirements of the job at hand will most likely work better than something used randomly.

Reason 2:  An embroidery stabilizer can help improve the look of embroidery – Stabilizers are sometimes designed with a specific weight or type of fabric in mind.  The proper marriage of backing or topping,  fabric,  thread and digitized design will create the most professional look and the best outcome.  Using a stabilizer designed for the fabric you want to embroider and the type of look you want to create will give you a much better chance of a successful finished product.

Reason 3:  An embroidery stabilizer can speed up production –  Designs tend to sew out better when they’re stabilized properly.  There’s less puckering,  fewer thread breaks and definitely a cleaner and more professional looking finished product.  Removing stabilizer more quickly with a tearaway option or presenting a tidier and more professional finished look with a washaway option are also benefits to using a stabilizer designed for embroidery.

Reason 4: The right tool for the right job – Freezer paper is designed to protect food from freezer burn.   Plastic grocery bags are designed for carrying your produce and pasta home from the store.   Embroidery stabilizer is designed to lend stability to embroidered designs,  to improve stitch-outs and to help provide a professional finished appearance.  Using products as they were designed will generally bring about the most successful outcome.

In a nutshell,  those are the reasons we think embroidery should be stabilized with machine embroidery backings and toppings,  but we’d love to get your take on this topic.   Have you ever stabilized your embroidery with something other than standard stabilizer?   What was the result?  We’d love to know what you think.

Marketing Monday: 4 Lessons From a Month of Blog Posts

Back at the beginning of July,  I issued a challenge to myself.  I wanted to see if regular updates on our blogs,  Threaducate and SubliStuff,  made a difference in our readership.   So I decided to write a blog post for one or the other of the blogs each of the five days of our work week,  for the entire month of July.  The goal was to see if this made a difference in the attention people paid to the blogs,  in the readership of older posts,  and simply to see if I could fit daily blogging into a schedule that always seemed to be packed with things to do.   I won’t lie,  the goal I’d set for myself was challenging,  but I learned a lot as I worked to meet it.   Here are some of the most important things I learned.

Ideas come from everywhere – One of my main worries was coming up with ideas for a new post every day.   Some days,  that was tough.  Gradually,  though,  I learned that a post idea can come from anywhere – someone I follow on social media,  a discussion with a co-worker,  looking back through older posts,  something I read,  something I watched,  something a competitor said.  Anything could be fodder for a post,  I just had to figure out how to frame it to make it applicable to the subjects of our blogs.

I had time,  if I made time – Anyone who has any part in managing or running a company knows that there are always more things to do than there are hours in which to do them.    The things that get done most often are the things you consider priorities.  Prior to the month of blog posts,  blogging had slipped on the priority list,  since there were always other demands on my time.  In July,  I made blogging a priority and rearranged some other things on my schedule to make it happen.  Sometimes that meant I wrote a paragraph a day until I got a post done.  Sometimes it meant I wrote several posts when I had a spare few hours.  I won’t say it was always easy,  because it wasn’t,  but the time was there,  if I made blogging a priority.

There are no old subjects,  only old posts – I’ve been writing about machine embroidery since 2007,  and about sublimation since 2010.  That’s a lot of informative posts with helpful tips and thoughts that are now several years old.  Looking back through the blogs allowed me to reprise subjects that were still relevant,  but had last been touched on in a post several years ago.   It’s a good reminder that old content can often be repurposed and reintroduced to an audience that may not have seen it before.

Not every post will be a home run, and that’s o.k. – A lot of us,  I think,  get focused on making things perfect,  and so we tinker and tweak and do everything but actually put the content out there and let people see it.  We got so focused on what we don’t like about something,  we forget to notice all the stuff that’s really good.  Yes,  I have certain standards for my work.   Yes,  I always want it to be the best it can be.  Yes,  sometimes my best isn’t as good as I’d like it to be and yes,  that’s o.k.   Sometimes the important thing is putting your work out there,  despite what you see as glaring mistakes, or clear imperfections.  The likelihood is that what you see as huge, blaring problems most people won’t even notice,  and that they’ll still benefit from interacting with your work.

In the end, my blogging experiment did seem to have an impact.  We had increased readership,  both of current posts and old posts.   We had new subscribers to the blogs.  Writing every day reminded me that writing is what I do, and I needed to do it more often.   While I don’t expect to,  or really want to continue writing a post a day,  I will be blogging more frequently.  I hope you’ll be reading when I do.